Fiat Chrysler Expands Free College Tuition Program Across the US

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Strayer University

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealers have a lot of rivals in competing for good sales and service staff members amid an economy that continues to gain ground, tightening the availability of labor, even as the quality of the typical job candidate arguably is dwindling.

So after testing a limited rollout of its no-debt, no-cost college education plan for employees earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler is expanding the employee benefit across the US. The incentive of a free college education via Strayer University now applies to any dealership employee across the country—and his or her immediate family members.

This may well be, as Strayer Education CEO Karl McDonnell told brandchannel, “the most generous education benefit ever offered anywhere in the world” by an employer. While Starbucks has partnered with Arizona State University to offer college degrees to its employees and particularly veterans, Fiat Chrysler is certainly the first and only in the US auto industry and, it seems, the first and only such offer by any US company of a no-cost, no-debt college degree.

As it expands the employer branding move, Fiat Chrysler believes that the expanded Degrees@Work program and the new Degrees@Work Family offering will enable the company to attract top talent, improve the skill set of existing employees, lessen the burden of paying for college for families, and significantly increase employee retention.

“What I’d love to think would happen with this program—which is really in its infancy—is we attract people in the auto business and people from outside the industry who’ve never given us a shot,” Al Gardner, head of dealer network development for FCA US, told brandchannel. “We need to attract people from outside the auto business who want to become part of it,” especially to become in-demand technicians.

Further, Gardner said, FCA and its dealers would like “to become the employer of choice in every community across the United States.”

Dealers are asked to pay only $500 to less than $1,000 a month to make the Strayer University program available to as many of their employees who want to participate. Reaction from the 356 eligible dealers in the Fiat Chrysler pilot program in the Southeast “was outstanding,” Gardner said. “They couldn’t believe we were actually doing the program and at the price point we were giving them.”

So far the several hundred Fiat Chrysler dealership employees who have entered degree programs online or at Strayer campuses are “average or substantially better than average” students, and most of them will take three to five years to complete their degree, McDonnell said. Turnover at Fiat Chrysler dealerships “is 65 percent,” he said, “so if an employee stays three to five years, that’s a win.”

Most students are going for business administration degrees. The degree program would cost about $42,000 in the open market. McDonnell said that, while Strayer’s arrangement with Fiat Chrysler is exclusive in the automotive realm, a “range” of Fortune 100 and 200 companies in other industries are sniffing around becuase they “see such a benefit as potentially as a powerful tool to field the best team that they can.”

As The Atlantic notes, employers subsidizing college education (a group that also includes Deloitte, Google, BP and Smuckers) is also an economic sign of the times.

“The growing prominence of employer-backed college attendance speaks to a larger trend that sees more adults in the United States attending college later in their lives, said Nicole Smith, an economist with the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Rather than viewing education as a ‘pipeline,’ Smith said the current education landscape is ‘more of an ecosystem … (and) perhaps a revolving door, because we have so many people who at their various points in their lives are required to go back to school.”

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